Tennessee pastor apologizes for asking teen to engage in sexual contact

Andy Savage

Andy Savage

Earlier this month, Jules Woodson said pastor Andy Savage sexually assaulted her while driving her home from their Houston church in 1998.

"Do you remember how you acted like you loved me and cared about me in order for me to cooperate in such acts, only to run out of the vehicle later and fall to your knees begging for forgiveness and for me not to tell anyone what had just happened?"

"You have to take this to the grave with you", she accuses him of saying. "Again, I sincerely ask for forgiveness from her and pray for God's continued healing for everyone involved", Savage added.

The message landed in the inbox of Andy Savage, a pastor at Highpoint Church, an evangelical Memphis mega-congregation that draws more than 2,000 Sunday worshipers.

The pastor had also tried to silence his sexual assault victim, telling her, "You can't tell anyone Jules, please". I was sorry then and remain so today. Savage said he resigned from the ministry and moved back home to Memphis. Savage said he deeply regrets the pain he caused Woodson and her family.

Savage said he told Highpoint about the allegations before he was hired and apologized after his "sexual incident".

"The church's response is full of red flags that concern those of us who monitor the sexual abuse of minors in religious communities", said Melanie Jula Sakoda of California, a member of the SNAP board of directors.

"In hindsight, I see that more could have been done for Jules".

Woodson insisted to WMC Action News 5, however, that Savage is lying about how he handled the incident. So then she told her all-female discipleship group about what had unfolded.

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Woodson said Savage passed by the street that led to her house, and when she asked where they were going, he simply told her it was "a surprise".

The legal age of consent in Texas is 17. As such, he is guilty of a crime, and should be punished by the law, not cheered for his "brave confession" by gullible rubes who show nothing but contempt for his victim and all other survivors of sexual assault.

Savage believed the alleged sexual assault was "dealt with" in the past. It carries a sentence of two to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

When Savage failed to respond to Woodson's December email, she took her allegations public on January 5, posting a detailed account of the alleged sexual assault on a blog for abuse survivors.

But this November, after Matt Lauer was sacked from NBC for alleged sexual misconduct, Woodson was inspired to confront Savage over email, asking him if he remembered sexually assaulting her.

"We understand this is not just a right and wrong issue, though there was something definitely wrong, but it's an issue that touches our feelings strongly", Conlee said at Sunday's sermon.

"This person was going through emotional trauma when they told the mother, so a lot of times none of us know that folks are being violated, particularly folks they hold in high esteem", Police Capt. Darry Whitaker told the local news station.

Conlee said in a statement Friday that in light of everything that had been done by Savage to make amends for his action, officials at Highpoint Memphis are standing by their embattled colleague.

He also stated that he told church leaders at Highpoint about what happened before he was hired.

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